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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
23 Jul 2012
Hector Berlioz, Les Troyens (concert performance, BBC Proms)
Hearing The Trojans in concert at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Proms was, for me at least, a much happier experience than when it laboured under the crowd-pleasing would-be-musical-comedy served up by David McVicar’s production for the Royal Opera.
Speaking to a few members of the audience who had also attended both, I was clearly not the only person to have found conductor and soloists liberated by the concert hall. Sir Antonio Pappano’s conducting still has its problems, but he makes Berlioz sound less like Verdi than he does Wagner, and, as at Covent Garden, his reading gathered strength as it went on. Even the first act, where sometimes he appeared to think that he was conducting Aida, had stronger, more idiomatic moments. The very opening was far too fast, breathless rather than jubilant, the Trojans opening ‘Ha! Ha!’ sounding as if they were hyper-ventilating. However, the transformation of mood signalling the arrival of Cassandre was very well handled, doubtless informed by plenty of theatrical experience yet without the encumbrance of inadequate scenic presentation. The disquieting weirdness of the orchestra throughout her recitative and aria painted a thousand words. Likewise, the terrible, ominous tread of the march and choral hymn, ‘Dieux protecteurs de la ville éternelle’ - the irony of the words properly telling - was compellingly presented, far more in touch with the inheritance of Gluck’s obsequies than had previously been the case. It was a pity, then, that the ensuing Wrestlers’ Dance reverted to Verdian type. Cassandre’s aria, ‘Non, je ne verrai pas la deplorable fête’ was conducted as if Pappano had a bus to catch, but thereafter things settled down, off-stage - or rather arena - brass sounding utterly resplendent in the act finale. One might have had quibbles here and there, but save for an unfortunate lapse of tension towards the end of the fourth act - it really must be maintained here, lest the Berlioz nay-sayers have their day in court over alleged ‘longueurs’ - there was much to enjoy, not least a vividly pictorial Royal Hunt and Storm, suffused also with erotic longing.
Of course, those of us who have heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the opera will never forget the experience: a performance far more alert to Berlioz’s formal imperatives, in which never, not once, did the dramatic, Gluckian tensian sag, but sadly, it is not logistically possible for every performance one hears to emanate from the hands of the world’s greatest Berlioz interpreter. The best stomachs, to misquote Voltaire, are not necessarily those that reject all food. Pappano more often than not did a good job, considerably better than at the staged performance I saw. And the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House played magnificently throughout, even on the occasions when its direction proved a little misguided.
The major problem with a number of the sung performances remained the level not only of French pronunciation, but French style. The latter is not monolithic of course, and it is no bad thing to have preconceptions challenged, but singing Berlioz as if he were Verdi simply does not pass muster, especially if pronunciation is all over the place. (Incidentally, the lack of comment by many writers on this crucial aspect should really be a matter for concern. If English-language critics simply cannot hear when the French language is being distorted, even butchered, they should probably leave Berlioz well alone.) There was a broad spectrum, of course: two singers who again covered themselves in glory were Ed Lyon as Hylas, his song deceptively simple and touching, and Anna Caterina Antonacci as Cassandre. If there were times when the orchestra threatened to overwhelm the latter’s voice, it never did, and that struggle is surely expressive of the drama. Relieved of McVicarisms, Antonacci channelled all of her musico-dramatic energies into a searing portrayal of the doomed prophetess. Even as a little boy reading the ancient legends, Cassandra was for me a figure of empathy; here, her predicament and nobility of spirit were searingly portrayed in a performance that would have nothing whatsoever to fear from comparison with Davis’s Petra Lang. Ironically, Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Didon, if hardly an epitome of French style, came alive far more dramatically than on stage. There was now a proper sense of a woman scorned, of righteous fury. Bryan Hymel’s Enée, however, continues to lack not only correct, or even feasible, pronunciation, but also refulgence of tone. If only, Jonas Kaufmann had been fit to sing. At times, alas, Hymel sounded like a parody of Jon Vickers Perhaps others can more readily overlook the odd mispronunciations, also a characteristic of Fabio Capitanucci’s Chorèbe, but they surely ought at least to have difficulties with the strangulated tone and the crude, Verdi-like delivery. Vignettes were often well taken. Ji-Min Park’s Iopas was sung beautifully, if one could ignore the lack of ease with the language. And small though the part may be, Pamela Helen Stephen’s Hécube somehow managed blood-curdlingly to capture the attention, as she and others recoiled at the death of Laocoön.
Aside from the second act finale, when the women experienced slight intonational problems, the choral singing was excellent too. Not quite a match, perhaps for Davis’s London Symphony Chorus - is there a chorus anywhere that has sung more Berlioz? - but impressive nevertheless. As an introduction to Berlioz’s extraordinary opera, this could hardly have failed to impress. Even for those of us who have known Les Troyens for a while, it remained an inspiring, if in some respects flawed, experience. Both the Proms and the Royal Opera should be congratulated for their efforts in bringing the work to a wider audience.